When I reflect on the places in my story where I have felt the deepest guilt, fear, or bewilderment, it has been in those that are the most personal and intimate. Who am I as a man? What does it mean to be a sexual person? What sense am I to make of my desires and my body—and is a Christian even supposed to care about such things? I remember during my college years how overwhelmed and despairing I felt because of the unrelenting weight of these questions. I remember waves of shame because I assumed good Christians never struggled like this. I’d learned plenty about doctrine and discipline, but I’d yet to learn much about a Christian understanding of the body, sexuality, and personhood.
Thankfully, as I continued conversations with wise mentors and read Scripture, I discovered how much the Bible says about the connection between our bodies and our faith. I encountered, for instance, how the apostle Paul offers a clear word cutting through my confusion: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1 NIV). Paul tells us that our bodies, rather than being inconsequential to our life with God, provide essential expressions of how we yield our entire self to Jesus’ rule. Paul tells us to give our bodies as acts of worship.
Assuming that our bodies participate in worship may seem odd because we moderns are so utilitarian. For many of us, our body seems little more than a glob of bone and muscle allowing us to breathe, move about, and digest food. We’ve lost much of the mystery inherent with the fact that the Holy Spirit resides in our physical self. We’ve lost much of the profound wonder over how we live in our body as an image bearer of our Creator.
Historically, Christians have spoken of the need to pursue chastity. While the call to a chaste life certainly means holiness in the marriage bed, it includes much more. To live chaste is to surrender one’s body (as well as one’s mind and heart) in pursuit of a full-fledged love of God. Likewise, when we refer to our sexuality, we are certainly talking about our commitments to sacrificially give ourselves in marriage and voicing our desire to reject lust and the damage it inflicts. We are indeed talking about the gift of singleness and how this gift serves God’s kingdom. However, we are also talking about something larger—the belief that for Christians, spirituality includes the physical body. We believe that, though tainted by sin, our bodies are good because God made them, and that our bodies are both recipients and instruments of God’s own love.
This embodied spirituality informs how we live in our world and how we live in friendship with others. It instructs us to honor the responsibility and covenant of sexual unions and to treat one another with dignity. To worship God with our body means we will reject the ways men degrade women (and women degrade men). It transforms our struggles with body image and our constant wars with food, teaching us that our body is a gift from God and worthy of gratitude and attentive care.
Practicing fidelity to God with our body assumes that it is more than just a lump of molecules we will one day discard; rather, our bodies are a beautiful expression of God’s image in us, and they help us participate in the life of God. As Paul said, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13 NIV). We pursue sexual wholeness not because we hate our body but because we are so profoundly grateful for it and want our full self to love, obey and delight in God.
Sadly, however, we know full well that our body (along with every speck of our being) must be healed, transformed, and set free. And ultimately, is this not the hope of resurrection, that our bodies will finally be all that God intends? To be a bodied person, then, is not something to shun but to honor, as we prayerfully submit to the good work and good future God has in mind for us.